Saturday, September 26, 2009

Decadence in a Brownie Pan

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies
Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Cookies

For my friend Brooke's birthday.  She's a sucker for the peanut butter-chocolate combo, so I figured this would be the perfect dessert to bring to a impromptu surprise potluck dinner.  My first tray (this one) came out ever-so-slightly overdone, but that's the problem with using a dark baking tray.  I'm planning on getting all new bakeware sometime soon...shiny and light is better!

Other than that, this was absolutely ridiculous in terms of flavor, and my friends should be prepared for these to make many appearances in the future.

Top Chef Shrimp & Scallop Burgers...

As a pioneer with educational technology in my building, I'm continually telling teachers that it is a good thing to struggle and make mistakes with technology, and that it teaches students an important lesson to see us growing and learning, just as they are.  In that vein, I'm writing this post, and you will hopefully understand my point by the time you get to the bottom of the text.

As part of my Top Chef dinner, I decided to make CJ's Scallop Mousse and Shrimp Burger with Tangerine.  All the ingredients were things that I like:  shrimp, scallops, lime, ginger, sugar, chile pepper, citrus...color me stoked.  The shrimp were halved lengthwise, and the scallops were pureed into a mousse with some pepper flakes, lime juice, and scallions.  Lining one of my Ateco circle cookie cutters with Saran, I layered 6 shrimp halves on the bottom of the ring mold, then spread over some mousse, then topped it again with 6 more shrimp halves.

Here's them wrapped up and ready for the fridge:

A close-up, ready for pan-frying:

Here's a picture of the garnishes, taken by Stephanie (she's rather proud of this photo).  Clockwise from the right is thinly shredded radicchio, thinly shredded spinach, and a sauce made from pickled ginger, pickled ginger juice, lime juice, rice vinegar, scallions and cilantro.  After that sauce came out of the blender, Stephanie started freaking out because of how good everything smelled.  She couldn't wait to eat, and I had to restrain her from just eating the sauce straight from the bowl.

So after the burgers were pan-sauteed, they were placed on a egg twist bun over a slice of tangerine, topped with the radicchio, spinach and sauce.  Looks delicious, right?

Problem:  I didn't like it.  I don't know what it was, but this did absolutely nothing for me, and in fact, I only ate half of it (much to Stephanie's delight, a surprising role reversal with her finishing all the food on my plate).  I don't know if it was the texture of the burger, or the flavor combinations, but everything that I had hoped this dish would be.  Needless to say, I won't be making it again.

I had not planned on writing about this - who wants to write about a dish that they didn't enjoy eating?  Well, Steph pointed out the whole "having people watch you struggle is good" thing to me, and so there you go.  What I want to ask of you, my hidden and silent readers, is this:  tell me about a time that you thought you would absolutely love a recipe and it came out terrible.  I'm curious to hear your stories about this.

Monday, September 14, 2009

(semi)Meatless Monday

Polenta Pie
Recipe courtesy of The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen

Welcome to (semi)Meatless Monday, where poor planning and forgetting tortillas at the supermarket yesterday caused Steph and I to have to take our leftovers (Sichuan-style Orange Chicken) for lunch today.  Alas, we'll be taking this meal tomorrow, so it's a Meatless 24-hours, I suppose.

Being that this is a challenge to myself to learn to try different vegetables, I decided on this recipe since it includes zucchini, which is a veggie that I have not learned to like, although admittedly I have passed on it so often, I don't think I even remember just why I don't like it.  It seemed like a good place to start.

This is a polenta crust that is baked, then set up with a thin layer of mozzarella, some sliced tomato, then a mixture of sauteed onions, red peppers, cremini mushrooms, zucchini, garlic and herbs, then topped with more mozzarella and broiled until nice and melted and toasty.  I made the crust with the Quaker cornmeal I had in my pantry, but I think it'd have come out better if I'd used coarse-ground cornmeal like the recipe suggested.  I'd add more tomato as well.  As for the zucchini, I actually don't think I know what it tasted like, but since I ate two helpings, I must've liked it.

I'd like to mention here that I've gotten really good at seasoning my food, and I take pride in the fact that most things I make don't need an extra dose of salt, but this is the 2nd of Katzen's recipes I've made that are underseasoned.  I think I might just write "+1/4 tsp salt" on the cover in Sharpie.

The final word:  Good, not great.  Might make it again.  I'd like suggestions, though - what kind of fillings would you use in a recipe like this?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dinner with the Chef @ Piccola Italia

Disclaimer: The camera battery died. Damn!

We hit up the most awesome Piccola Italia in Ocean, New Jersey for a "Dining with the Chef" culinary demonstration of using mushrooms, one of my favorite ingredients. A cool experience, with a large communal dining room and the chef up front showing us how to prepare all the food we were eating. I liked the idea of being able to ask questions of the chef as he was talking and cooking, and I'm proud to say that my questions (differences between white/black truffle oil, the best way to save mushroom stems and prep mushroom stock at home) were a little more insightful. Whatever - let's talk about the food.

First Course:  Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Strudel, Truffle Butter, Pears
I'm not the biggest fan of working with phyllo, but I'd do it just for this recipe.  Sauteed "wild" mushrooms (a misnomer since all mushrooms are cultivated these days) mixed in with some goat cheese (and cream cheese for body), then encased in the phyllo and roasted.  Truffle butter provided awesome flavor, and some diced ripe pear was a nice foil.  We drank some 2007 Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir.  Delicious.

Second Course:  Cream of Porcini Soup
I love mushroom soup.  Absolutely freaking love it.  This was even more amazing than my normal recipe for mushroom soup.  This is where I was able to sneak in my question about making my own mushroom stock, because I think that it just makes the final dish that much better (you may very well see some for the upcoming Meatless Monday), so now I'm saving all my mushroom stems.  Porcini powder?  Buying it as soon as possible.  I also need to pick up some white truffle oil as well.  The end result was a dish that I was sponging every last bit of soup up with bread - my plate was clean, literally.

Third Course:  Fresh Perciatelli with Crab, Chanterelles, Roasted Corn and Shaved Truffles
I've paired seafood with corn and truffles in the past, but I would not have thought to add mushrooms to the mix.  My shortsightedness - this was absolutely ridiculous in flavor.  The truffles didn't add too much to the flavor, but the aroma really kicked the dish up to a whole new level.  I don't particularly like corn that much (I know, I'm a bad Jersey kid), but this is the 2nd dish in the last few weeks that has had corn as a component that I've really enjoyed.  I'm going to add it to my list of veggies to find ways to like.

Fourth Course:  Foie Gras French Toast with Truffle Zabaglione (FTW!)
They should've just called this "Decadence on a Plate".  A chanterelle-foie mousse piped into a brioche block, then soaked in eggs/rum/cinnamon/awesome and fried up?  Then topped with a Madiera and truffle oil-laced zabaglione?  Holy crap.  It was everything I was hoping for (and more) when I read it on the menu.  Plus, we had a tasting of a ridiculously super-sweet Hungarian dessert wine called Tokaji (or Tokay, in English).  Really strong honey flavors in the nose, carried through the the taste, along with a lingering nuttiness.  The only way this would be able to be consumed is with a super-rich dish like the foie gras french toast, as it cut through all the flavor nicely.

I find it funny how my own job as a teacher affects my life outside of the job.  Every time Brian started talking, all I wanted to do was shush everyone so we could give our attention to the 'teacher' in the room.  Every time I had a question, I had such a hard time just yelling it out, I found myself raising my hand at one point, waiting to be called on.  Silly me.

Props to Chef Brian and to manager (and our friend!) Andrew for a phenomenal evening!  There's a beer event going on in October (natch), but something tells me that Steph and I will be back before then.  If you live in the area, you should go eat there too!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Meatless Monday!

Szechuan Tofu Triangles with Triple Pepper Sauce

Talking with a few people and reading some stuff online has influenced me to try to make a change in the meals I eat during the week.  My college friend Heather, at Running Leaner and Greener, as embarked on a mission called Simple Changes September - little things to do to improve ones health and eco-friendliness.  Now, I'm not an environmentalist by any stretch, but I do my small part here and there (reusable Sigg water bottles and lunch bags, reusable grocery bags, not driving an SUV, etc).  I asked myself - what little change can I do?  My answer?  Meatless Mondays.

Not so little of a change!.  Pretty much everyone who knows me knows there's not much more I enjoy than cooking and eating meat of all kinds.  Really, if I wasn't meant to eat animals, then I wouldn't be genetically predisposed to thinking that they are so damn tasty.  I'm especially partial to all things pork, pig being the magical animal that practically every part is edible.  Even though Steph and I eat a good share of chicken and seafood, there's not much better to me than a delicious pork chop or rib-eye.

Why make a change?  As silly as it sounds, it all comes back to being a teacher, the need to model positive behaviors and make good choices as an example to my students.  Being a public school teacher, I see firsthand the problems faced overweight children, the extreme eating habits (by both the grossly overweight and underweight) and the generally poor choices that my students make when it comes to food.  I can use this choice for a Meatless Monday to live healthier myself, and so in the end I can talk to my students how small changes in their own lives can benefit not only themselves, but others as well.  (Wow, I'm such a cheeseball.)

Lastly, I'm looking at this as a challenge to myself.  While my palate has grown by leaps and bounds as I've gotten older, I'm still very picky when it comes to my vegetables, and there are plenty of veggies out there that I still don't eat.  Doing the Meatless Monday is going to give me incentive and an avenue to try new recipes and find dishes in which I'll be able to (hopefully) learn to like some of those elusive veggies.  Currently, I think eggplant is at the top of my list.

So tonight, I made sauteed tofu triangles, stir fried with onions, peppers, and a nice sauce of honey, soy and garlic.  I've got to tell you - damn tasty!  Everything worked well, and I was satisfied with the texture of the extra-firm tofu, which held up in the cooking.  I'd definitely make this one again, although I'd cut the tofu into cubes and cut the peppers into uniform chunks as well, as opposed to strips and triangles.  Steph and I are off to a good start!

Next week, I'm thinking it's almost autumn, so that means it's time for the fungi to shine.  However, anyone out there have any real tasty meatless recipes they can share?  If something catches my eye, I'll definitely make it!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Spice-Rubbed Chicken Breast Tacos

No pictures tonight, kids.  Apologies in advance.

Here's the recipe, and I followed it pretty faithfully where I could.  The only subs I made was I used Mexican-style hot chili powder vs. ancho chile powder (here's a nice post about the difference), and I used less cumin to compensate.

As I was prepping dinner, I was not happy with some of the individual components of the dish.  The poblanos, while prepped easily, came out tasting horrendously bitter, so I didn't use them.  The guacamole, usually something I prepare well and enjoy, was a bit too citrusy for my tastes.  The slaw was tasty, but had too much mayonnaise than my standard cole slaw recipe.  The only thing I was really happy about was the spice rub for the chicken, which was a clever combination of chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, brown sugar, salt and pepper.

Honestly, Stephanie and I were prepared wanted really wanted to dislike this dish, simply because of the guy who came up with it (I've made my dislike of Bobby Flay very clear).  But let me tell you something.  This recipe was awesome.

Like every dish that ends up being delicious, it was the perfect balance of sweet/spicy, warm/cool and soft/crunchy.  I'd have stopped to take pictures, but it wasn't really photogenic, having chicken, guac, coleslaw and onions jammed and folded into a tortilla.  Absolutely delicious, and highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tandoori-Spiced Chicken Breast

Tandoori-Spiced Chicken Breast
Grilled Tomato Jam, Herbed Yogurt, Grilled Naan

 Recipe courtesy of Food Network
Had an amazing inservice today with Will Richardson, pretty much the guru of online social interaction with the aim of improving education.  Hearing him speak about the power of the Internet, the goal to have students talk to strangers online, and how people of common interest can get together to exchange information in groups and improve themselves...well, it was really inspiring.  Trust me when I tell you, if you are in any way in the education field, you will want to check out his blog.  I'm buying what he's selling, and I'm not just talking about his book (which I've read, and is awesome).

What does it have to do with food?  Nothing really, but I did get to sneak in my blog address during our discussion.  Inspired by Will, I've got a little map on the right side of the blog now.  I want to add more dots to my map!

I was looking for some clever ways of using some defrosted chicken breasts, and this seemed to fit the bill, despite the fact that Steph prefers another recipe for tandoori I make more often.  The spice paste was rather pungent, and I used a tenth of the cayenne that the recipe called for, and the tomato jam had a nice sweetness from the balsamic vinegar.  Even though I used cilantro and mint in the yogurt (two of Steph's least favorite herbs) it was still refreshing and cooled the heat from the spice paste nicely.  I was a big fan of this dish - lots of flavors coming together nicely.  The only change I'd make (and you should too!) is to halve the spice paste recipe - for 3 chicken breasts, it is far too much.

Would I make it again?  Only if I was cooking for myself - I thought it tasted amazing.  However, I got the "good, but not great" from the wife, so this is one that won't necessarily be going into the recipe file.  If anyone else decides to give it a whirl, please let me know!